In a Day 1 Proclamation, President Biden ordered the review of a dangerous Trump administration screening and vetting policy and ended the discriminatory executive order that led to it.
As my colleague Larry Siems wrote on Wednesday, President Biden has rescinded a number of Trump administration policies that threatened or needlessly undermined First Amendment freedoms. But even as President Biden took these steps, he also signaled how much there is left to do. One item on the agenda: reviewing how agencies use visa applicants’ social media handles when deciding whether to allow them entry into the United States.
Since 2019, the State Department has engaged in the mass collection of travelers’ social media information, demanding that everyone applying for a U.S. visa hand over their handles on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. In December of that year, the Knight Institute and partners at the Brennan Center and Simpson Thacher filed a lawsuit on behalf of two documentary film organizations challenging this requirement on First Amendment grounds. We argued that the requirement would chill visa applicants’ speech and expression, invade their privacy, and deter filmmakers and others from traveling to the United States. While the lawsuit was pending, the Trump administration sought to expand the registration requirement even further.
But on Wednesday, President Biden revoked the discriminatory executive order that gave rise to this policy, calling it “a moral blight that has dulled the power of our example the world over.” Encouragingly, he also instructed the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security to review the agencies’ use of the social media information they’ve collected.
We’re optimistic that this review will result, eventually, in the State Department rescinding the registration requirement. The requirement imposes high costs on freedom of expression, individual privacy, and the vision of the United States as a hub of debate and cultural exchange. And the requirement is entirely unnecessary, because, even absent the requirement, nothing will preclude consular officials from asking individual applicants for social media information when there are good reasons for doing so. This vestige of former President Trump’s racist and oppressive immigration policies should share the same fate as the executive order that gave rise to it, and we’re hopeful that the Biden administration will agree.
Anna Diakun is a staff attorney at the Knight Institute.